I am sure you have noticed by now the preaching of the gospel, in the earliest days of the church, was met with severe opposition. The disciples likely didn’t find this surprising. After all, Jesus predicted as much. Luke’s Gospel records Jesus saying, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).
When the apostles went to Iconium and then Lystra, they were met with division. Entire communities were divided. And the opposition to the gospel was fierce. They were making plans to stone the apostles in Iconium, and they actually carried out the stoning of Paul in Lystra.
Humans have a remarkable tendency toward animosity against one another. And that animosity can have a quick trigger.
I was reading today about an ESPN reporter who covers the NBA. He got a press release from a U.S. senator that was critical of the NBA’s relationship with China, as well as some of the league’s political statements. The ESPN reporter – within two minutes – wrote back to the senator with a two-word expletive.
Reporters are supposed to be impartial. They are supposed to report the news. They aren’t supposed to verbally insult anyone. But in two minutes, this particular reporter was able to digest what the senator was saying and then, rather than reporting it as news (or just ignoring it as not newsworthy), replied to the senator by cussing at him.
Clearly, the reporter had his opinions about these subjects. And here was a man who was paid to be unbiased and yet was so wound up in his own feelings that he risked his job in order to insult a U.S. senator.
I assume the reporter regrets it. But it goes to show how humans operate — seek and destroy opposition to our chosen ways of life. This destruction could be physical or, in this case, verbal.
For the apostle Paul, the attempted destruction was both physical and verbal. In Iconium, the unbelieving Jews “poisoned (the Gentiles’) minds” against the gospel. When that didn’t work, they began concocting plans to kill the apostles.
Indeed, humans have a remarkable tendency toward animosity against one another. We are naturally competitive. We bend toward tearing one another apart to get what we want – or to defend what we have.
After the disciples found the body of Paul, left for dead outside the city of Lystra, they likely were surprised when he got up. Paul was alive. Surely battered and bruised, he walked back into the city. He didn’t walk back into the city for revenge. He walked back into the city to continue his ministry.
Paul and Barnabas went on to Derbe, and then they returned both to Lystra and Iconium. They continued to preach this divisive gospel. But you’ll notice that there was no violence in their actions. There were no murderous threats or plots. It was simply the good news of Jesus Christ, preached over and over again to anyone who would listen. It was a message of life and hope and reconciliation with the maker of heaven and earth. No violence is necessary to become part of the family of God – just humble repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
The world will rage against the gospel. And at times, that raging will be violent. The apostles reminded the new believers that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus had said we are blessed when we are persecuted for righteousness sake – and when others revile us, persecute us, and utter all kinds of evil against us falsely on His account (Matthew 5:10-11). We don’t retaliate. No, we patiently wait for the blessing of God.
A question for your day: In what ways are you drawn to competition and to retaliation in your daily life?